The People Are What Make MSE

By Alec Arbia, Written Communications Assistant

Victoria Reichelderfer (MSE ‘20), current materials and process engineer at Pratt & Whitney and member of the MSE External Advisory Board.

Victoria Reichelderfer (‘20) didn’t start out as a materials science and engineering (MSE) major; when she first began attending UConn, she was majoring in chemical engineering. “I didn’t actually know much about MSE, and as I learned more about it I thought it sounded interesting. The reason I switched into the major, however, was because it felt like a community. The students immediately seemed like my kind of people, and I liked that because it’s a smaller major, you could get to know your professors really well. Of course, I find the subject matter really interesting, but I think the people are what make MSE a very special major.”

When asked if she had any professors that were particularly inspirational, Reichelderfer said, “Serge Nakhmanson was a great mentor to me for most of my time at UConn, and we remain good friends even though I haven’t been a student for a few years now. I worked in his lab as an undergraduate and he helped me with technical subject matter, but even more importantly he had no shortage of advice on navigating my career. Even after I left UConn, Serge always had supportive advice when I wasn’t sure what to do next.”

Professor Nakhmanson said in response, “I am pleased to observe all the positive developments regarding Victoria’s professional career, especially since she managed to come back to us after attending grad school in Colorado. Although an obvious part of our effort as faculty is filling the heads of students with knowledge, our true main goal is trying to ensure that our students are happy and fulfilled in what they do. It is very satisfying to me when I see Victoria moving in that direction. I want to wish her all the best in growing her career at Pratt & Whitney.”

As an undergraduate, Reichelderfer was an active member of the Society of Women Engineers, whose mission is to support the professional interests of female engineering students during their time at UConn.

After receiving her bachelor’s in MSE from UConn in 2020, Reichelderfer went on to receive her master’s in MSE from the University of Colorado Boulder in 2022.

Right after graduation, Reichelderfer began working as a materials and process engineer at Kaman. Now, she holds the same position at Pratt & Whitney. “I wanted to come back to the east coast after grad school, so I was looking at a few jobs in CT, but when I met the team at Kaman I knew it would be a great fit for me. Leaving Kaman was very bittersweet, but I came to Pratt & Whitney because I wanted to get more specific in terms of the subject matter of my job.”

Reichelderfer’s current work focuses on aluminum and titanium components. “My role is very much tied to the development side of things. I focus a lot on understanding how processing impacts alloy microstructure, and how that ultimately defines how that material can be used for a certain component. It ties together the needs of the component’s design with material requirements, and helps go from a drawing on paper to an actual component. We also provide support to the team on the production side in case things don’t go as planned.”

The most rewarding part of Reichelderfer’s job is when she finds the solution to a problem into which she’s put a lot of time and effort. On the other hand, “sometimes it can be difficult to work with people who have a different style of working than you do. Therefore to any current students, I say: it turns out all those group projects they make you do are actually important, especially for being able to balance many personality types when you’re in the industry.”

When asked about her current research interests, Reichelderfer said, “Lately I’ve been really interested in aluminum ingot solidification. I’ve also been working to understand titanium microstructure on a deeper level. My main interest is how upstream material processing (casting, extrusion, rolling, etc.) impacts microstructure and defines the properties of the final part. I try to absorb as much as I can from the more experienced engineers in my group.”

In March of 2023, Reichelderfer joined UConn’s MSE External Advisory Board (EAB). “Members of the EAB work with MSE to understand how the MSE curriculum can be optimized for our alumni to be successful after graduation, as well as to fit the needs of the industry in Connecticut. CT is a great state for pursuing a degree in MSE because there are a lot of companies that are pushing the limits of currently available materials. I hope to help support the already great relationship between UConn MSE and regional industry so that we can create many opportunities for UConn students before and after graduation.” 

Reichelderfer’s advice to any current MSE students is as follows: “MSE is a really broad major, so if you’re not 100% sure what you want to do, you have options. I tried out a couple of different sub-fields before settling on metallurgy, and I’m glad my degree is in a field where you can do that. It doesn’t tie you down at all – I even know materials engineers who went on to work in other engineering disciplines. Find a subject area where you enjoy the process, be disciplined about it, and the results will arrive on their own.”

Published: March 13, 2024

Categories: alumni, external advisory board, industry, news

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